KARACHI - Authorities in Karachi have seized dozens of precious antiquities dating from Pakistan's ancient Gandhara civilisation, illegally dug from the country's restive northwest, officials said Friday.
The haul included statues of Buddha, life-sized idols, bronze artefacts, utensils and decorative plaques, Qasim Ali Qasim, director of Sindh province archaeology department, told AFP.
Police intercepted a flatbed truck in Karachi and found the antiquities from the 2,000-year-old civilisation hidden under plastic and wooden items, officials said.
Senior police official Latif Siddiqui said the driver and cleaner of the truck had been arrested and an investigation was underway.
Qasim said he believed the items had been dug up in Taliban-infested northwest Pakistan and brought to Karachi a piece or two at a time, ready for dispatch to Europe overland via Afghanistan and Central Asia.
"The thieves and mafias involved in this business dig in the northwest, which is filled with Gandhara sites with little control by the authorities," Qasim said.
"They dug up ancient pieces, accumulated them in Karachi and then sent them to Afghanistan in the garb of a NATO vehicle when they saw Pakistan has reopened the route."
Gandhara was a Buddhist civilisation that flourished around the modern-day city of Peshawar and in parts of eastern Afghanistan.